Since I left Sunday school with nary a backward glance when I was about eight, I have had little to do with organised religion. I enjoyed daydreams about unattainable priests as much as the next teenage girls, but realised quite quickly that when it comes to men of the cloth, more look like Father Jack Hackett from “Father Ted” than like Cardinal Ralph de Bricassart from “The Thorn Birds”. But a couple of announcements in recent weeks have brought my attention back to the church.
Speaking during morning mass, and then reported on Vatican Radio on 23 February 2017, Pope Francis had harsh words for those who live a “double life”: “Scandal is saying one thing and doing another; it is a totally double life: ‘I am very Catholic, I always go to Mass, I belong to this association and that one; but my life is not Christian, I don’t pay my workers a just wage, I exploit people, I am dirty in my business, I launder money.’ A double life.” He then went further and said that “it is better to be an atheist” than to bring scandal to the church: “[With] scandal, you destroy. You beat down. And this happens every day, it’s enough to see the news on TV, or to read the papers. In the papers there are so many scandals, and there is also the great publicity of the scandals. And with the scandals there is destruction.” I trust that the self-avowed good Catholic members of organised crime groups from Italy to Albania, from Colombia to New York, are squirming in their pews.
And in a handy follow-up to my last post but one – about banks and others applying AML obligations thoughtlessly and inflexibly – we have the story of Saint Nicholas Church in Harpenden in Hertfordshire, whose account at HSBC was closed for a fortnight after the bank “accused church staff of repeatedly failing to provide up-to-date details of individuals involved in the church’s finances, which it said was vital to fight money laundering and fraud”. As a result, standing orders bounced and parishioners whose money was returned were confused. According to the BBC story, “details demanded were part of HSBC’s controversial Safeguard programme [which was] set up in response to the bank being fined £1.2 billion in 2012, over money laundering and sanctions busting”. Church treasurer Peter Timms seems to have a deal more commonsense than his bankers: “This was very heavy-handed treatment, particularly for a charity run by volunteers. Banks should know their customers, and exercise a bit of common sense. If they’re concerned, they should speak to us properly.” Amen to that.